West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker


On a regional TV sports program, I was extensively interviewed regarding the deaths of the three collegiate wrestlers this year, and what is being done at the high school level to allay excessive dieting. Where do I start? Why not at the beginning?

I was very fortunate as a high school wrestler because my parents were quite perceptive as to what I should eat. At home, Mom always prepared nutritious food. Of course, there was very little dietary research published in the early 1960s. Thus, many wrestlers like myself did the best we could to watch our weight. Sometimes, we did not fare too well, eating too much of the high-calorie foods (especially those wonderful sweets) -- and paying for it at practice.

Such is no longer the case. If wrestlers (assisted by their parents) learn to take advantage of the many doctor-approved, weight-watching plans currently available, they would eat properly, feel healthy, and perform to their fullest potential. Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason for parental consternation over the recent collegiate deaths in the mat sport. Not only were these tragic occurrences an athletic anomaly, but they could have been avoided if the wrestlers would have practiced safe dieting techniques. Losing large amounts of water weight in short periods of time is the wrong way! Gradual weight loss (with workout dedication) over a period of weeks prior to one's first competition is the right way!

There is another very important reason why parents should nt be overly concerned. Our state athletic associations have developed highly successful weight certification programs that protect the wrestlers from themselves. To my knowledge, there have been no fatalities related to dieting in wrestling at the high school level, and I have been enthusiastically involved with the mat sport (as a competitor, coach, and official) for over 40 years. Now just consider the dietary controls of one state athletic association.

The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission requires that medical doctors determine how much weight a wrestler can safely lose. For example, if a physician certifies a wrestler (by signing a form) at the 125-pound weight class, the matman can not go down any lower. But there's more. Parent's can override the doctor's decision by signing the same form and circling a higher weight classification, say the 130-pound weight category -- then that's as low as their son can go. However, parents can not permit their adolescent to wrestle at a lower weight than designated by the doctor.

As far as I know, similar safeguards are practiced by every state athletic association in the country. So in essence, your son's safety and good health is their foremost priority.

To be completely honest with my readers, American wrestlers have always had the mindset that to succeed in the mat sport one must lose lots of weight. On the other hand, the Russian philosophy in wrestling (from what I've been told) is to build up to a weight class -- and Russia has had some of the best grapplers in the world. So what's the answer?

Try moderation.

If you want to be a successful wrestler, you have to eat sensibly (junk food is a "no-no") and work your tail off at practice. This includes skill development, weight training, and conditioning -- and I mean conditioning that goes far beyond any other sport. That's how great champions are made in wrestling!

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Updated March 24, 1998